World War Two Tour on Translink Metro

7th March 2018

We have put together a tour of Belfast's Blitz sites that you can visit by public transport just in time for Translink Bus and Train Week in June 2017.

Translink Bus and Train Week runs from 5th – 11th June 2017. It offers many discounted fares, one, in particular, being a £3 day ticket on Belfast’s Metro buses. We have no affiliation with Translink or any other transport company and are not making any money from this venture. As keen users of the Metro, we thought it might be interesting to see how many World War Two sites we could get around in a day.

We will keep this post updated throughout Belfast Bus and Train Week. If you know of somewhere worth visiting, let us know.

City Hall, Belfast

Our tour begins at Belfast City Hall. Built in 1906, the Portland stone building has stood through turbulent times. One of the worst came in April 1941. The German Luftwaffe bombed Belfast and the building suffered damage to its banqueting hall and roof. Brighter days would follow in 1945. Belfast City Hall greeted dignitaries such as Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery. Another esteemed guest was Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces, General Dwight D Eisenhower. Many artifacts now stand both inside and outside the building as permanent reminders of World War Two and its influence on the city of Belfast.

Learn more about Belfast City Hall during World War Two.

Belfast City Hall

Life continues in Belfast in the months after the devastating Belfast Blitz. Repairs have been carried out to the roof of the City Hall. White paint around the base of lamp posts indicate blackout conditions remain in the city. Copyright Belfast Telegraph.

Translink Metro 1A and 1C buses for the next part of the tour leave from Upper Queen Street, a short walk from City Hall.

The Waterworks

The Waterworks are in an area of North Belfast almost decimated by the Belfast Blitz in April 1941. To begin with, opinion was that the Nazis mistook the waterworks for the docks but maps and documents found after the war proved otherwise. The “Wasserwerke” were a clear Nazi target. By destroying the plant, the German Luftwaffe left Belfast short on vital water supplies and pressure. This was noticeable after the fire blitz when much of the city burned. To get to the Waterworks, take the 1C Metro by Translink along the Antrim Road and disembark at Richmond Lane.

Learn more about the Nazi’s “Fire Raid” on Belfast.

Limestone Road

The Limestone Road ran through Belfast’s industrial heartland. It was a transport route from the limestone quarries of Cave Hill down towards the docks. Eliminating industrial plants and main thoroughfares would have been a prime target of the Luftwaffe in 1941. German bombs destroyed many buildings including Newington Presbyterian Church. The new building opened in 1952. Streets in the Limestone Road and Duncairn Gardens area disappeared or were reduced to rubble leaving many people homeless. To get to the Limestone Road, take the 1C Metro by Translink along the Antrim Road and disembark at Richmond Lane.

Learn more about the Easter Blitz in Belfast in 1941.

My older sister was in a cot upstairs when an incendiary bomb went through the house and missed her cot by about a foot. My mother cut out the lino with the burnt hole and I remember it being in our Hill Street home for years.

Carolyn Mulholland – Artist whose family lived on Belfast’s Limestone Road.

Hallidays Road, Belfast in April 1941

Smoke rises from a crater caused by a Luftwaffe bomb on Hallidays Road, off the Limestone Road in North Belfast. The area was badly hit during the Belfast Blitz on 15th and 16th April 1941. Copyright Belfast Telegraph.

Belfast Zoo

Belfast Zoo on the slopes of Cave Hill is the scene of one of the Belfast Blitz’s most endearing tales. Many now know the story of Shiela the Elephant and the zookeeper who kept her safe from Nazi bombs. The movie ‘Zoo’ retells the tale from 1941. Denise Austin snuck the young elephant from her cage each night. After closing the zoo, Denise and Shiela walked to the Whitewell Road, away from the bombing. Belfast Zoo remains one of the city’s prime visitor attractions. To get to Belfast Zoo, take the 1C Metro by Translink along the Antrim Road and disembark at Bellevue.

Learn more about Shiela the Elephant and her wartime adventure.

Shiela The Elephant

Shiela The Elephant became a familiar sight on the Whitewell Road in North Belfast as Zookeeper Denise Austin brought her home to protect her during the Belfast Blitz. Copyright Belfast Zoo.

Cave Hill

Cave Hill stands north of the Antrim Road in Belfast. Its familiar silhouette, known as Napoleon’s Nose is visible from much of the city. There are several walking routes around the hill and the view from McArt’s fort at the top is one of the best in Belfast. In April 1941, a steady stream of people fled the north of the city taking refuge in the caves and hills as Luftwaffe bombs rained down. This practice was known as ‘sheughing’. Sheugh comes from the word for a furrow or ditch.

Views from Cave Hill

Views of north and east Belfast from McArt’s Fort at the summit of Cave Hill. In 1941, people fled from these areas to the hill as Luftwaffe bombs rained down on the city. Photo taken on 15th July 2014. Copyright Scott Edgar – World War Two Northern Ireland.

When it comes to World War Two, most remember Cave Hill as the scene of an American B17 crash in 1944. That story became the movie ‘Closing The Ring’. Other noteworthy sites include the white stone used as a painted marker for planes approaching RAF Aldergrove. There was also once a Royal Navy radio station operating in nearby Belfast Castle. Climbing Cave Hill is quite a strenuous physical activity. To get to Belfast Zoo, take the 1C Metro by Translink along the Antrim Road and disembark at Bellevue.

Buy ‘Closing The Ring’ on DVD from Amazon UK.

Translink Tour Part 2

The second part of our Belfast Blitz tour on the Translink Metro starts again at Upper Queen Street. This stop is a few minutes walk from Belfast City Hall.

York Street

York Street in north Belfast ran along the edge of one of the hardest hit areas in the Belfast Blitz. Several prime targets stood on the industrial city thoroughfare. The York Street Flax Spinning Co worked with linen used for parachutes, aircraft covers and glider frames. The York Street Mill was at the time one of the largest mills in the world. The latter of these buildings was almost destroyed by Nazi bombs in April 1941. The side wall of the mill collapsed onto the adjacent Sussex Street and Vere Street killing many people sheltering in their homes. To get to York Street, take the 1A Metro by Translink along the Antrim Road and disembark at Donegall Street.

Learn more about the streets destroyed in April 1941.

I hollered to the boys to run. Fear lends you wings.

Constable Donald Fleck, formerly of York Street Police Station – Interviewed by BBC in April 2001.

Belfast Blitz - York Street

Imperial War Museum Photo: H9464 (Part of the War Office Second World War Official Collection). Royal Welch Fusiliers assist with the clear up on York Street with the art deco Orpheus building surviving in the background. 7th May 1941.

Hogarth Street

In 2013, Jonny McKerr (JMK) completed a fantastic mural to remember the Belfast Blitz in Hogarth Street. A memorial plaque to the victims from the Tiger’s Bay area was added soon after. Forty-five people were killed in Hogarth Street alone on 15th-16th April 1941. Most were sheltering in their own homes. Included in this number are eight members of the Gordon family and eight members of the Wilson family. To get to Hogarth Street, take the 1A Metro by Translink along the Antrim Road and disembark at Cliftonville Road.

Learn why the people of Belfast were unprepared for the Blitz.

Atlantic Avenue in April 1941

The junction of Atlantic Avenue and Ponsonby Avenue just off the Antrim Road in North Belfast. This street corner was the site of an air raid shelter which took a direct hit killing all inside. Copyright Belfast Telegraph.

Lincoln Avenue

One of the Luftwaffe’s main targets in the north of the city was Victoria Barracks. A large complex, it took several hits in Easter 1941 but the nearby streets were almost destroyed. Streets like Lincoln Avenue bore the brunt of blanket bombing. People from this area who survived mainly did so by fleeing the city. All around the New Lodge area streets of terraced houses were turned to rubble. Air Raid Warden Jimmy Doherty lived on Lincoln Avenue. His wartime memories make for great reading in ‘Post 381 – Memoirs of a Belfast Air Raid Warden’. To get to Lincoln Avenue, take the 1A Metro by Translink along the Antrim Road and disembark at Lincoln Avenue.

Buy ‘Post 381 – Memoirs of a Belfast Air Raid Warden’ by James Doherty on Amazon UK.

ARP Warden at City Hall

One of the War Years Remembered re-enactors takes the role of an Air Raid Precaution Warden at the 75th anniversary of the Belfast Blitz at Belfast City Hall. Photo taken on 15th April 2016. Copyright Scott Edgar – World War Two Northern Ireland.

Atlantic Avenue

Atlantic Avenue was the scene of one of the worst tragedies of the Belfast Blitz. The junction with Ponsonby Avenue is now a row of single storey shops but in April 1941 it was the site of an air raid shelter. The houses on Ponsonby Avenue survived with some damage but the Atlantic Avenue street shelter took a direct hit. On the way home from the Floral Hall at the foot of Cave Hill, a tram full of passengers halted on the Antrim Road. As the Luftwaffe swooped overhead, the passengers rushed for the nearest public air raid shelters. All those sheltering inside the Atlantic Avenue shelter died in the blast. To get to Atlantic Avenue, take the 1A Metro by Translink along the Antrim Road and disembark at Eia Street.

Learn about the destruction caused to Belfast in Easter 1941.

Burke Street

You won’t find Burke Street or the adjoining Annadale Street on a modern map or bus route. Like many other streets, they were reduced to rubble in the blitz of 1941 and never rebuilt. Burke Street ran between Annadale Street and Dawson Street. The entrance to the former was at 101 Antrim Road. The small north Belfast Street comprised of around twenty houses, all flattened by Luftwaffe bombs. In 1991, BBC Northern Ireland commissioned a programme title ‘No Survivors In Burke Street’. Mary Jane Brown, aged 91, of 18 Burke Street was the oldest victim of the Belfast Blitz. To get to the Burke Street area, take the 1A Metro by Translink along the Antrim Road and disembark at Kansas Avenue.

The Belfast Street Directory from 1943 makes for chilling reading.

Burke Street (1943)
Here is Maralin Street

We went right down into the heart of the area, Annadale Street, Burke Street, Berlin Street. In that area, we met death everywhere. Very few casualties – this was a terrible thing. That night, the dead in some areas outnumbered casualties. A terrible thing to see. We moved down into Annadale Street. There the devastation was great. One street was completely wiped out. No survivors in Burke Street.

Jimmy Doherty – ARP, North Belfast, 1941

Buy ‘The Belfast Blitz: The City in the War Years’ by Brian Barton on Amazon UK.

No survivors on Burke Street

Burke Street in the New Lodge area of North Belfast was completely destroyed in the Belfast Blitz of 1941. All twenty houses were levelled and ARP Warden Jimmy Doherty reported there were no survivors. Copyright unknown.

Translink Tour Part 3

The third part of our Blitz tour takes us on the No. 10 route on the Translink Metro through West Belfast stopping at five further sites of interest. The following routes all begin in Queen Street in the City Centre.

Falls Road Baths

The Falls Road Public Baths took on a grisly role in April 1941. With inadequate mortuary facilities in Belfast for the hundreds of casualties, the baths became a temporary morgue. Volunteers drained the pool and bodies lay out for identification. Men, women, and children alike lay dead in the West Belfast baths and at St George’s Market in the city centre. Many of the dead were never identified and were buried in mass graves in the city’s main cemeteries. They had their personal effects checked to best determine religion before burial. To get to the Falls Road Leisure Centre, take the 10A Metro by Translink along the Falls Road and disembark at Clonard.

Learn more about the role played by the Falls Road Baths.

Falls Road Baths, Belfast

Irish National Archives Photo: The Falls Road Public Baths photographed around 1920. Owned by the Belfast Corporation, the public baths would be used as an emergency morgue after the Belfast Blitz of April 1941. Copyright Ulster Museum Y8518.

Clonard Monastery

As Nazi bombs rained down on North Belfast, people fled to the hills and sought shelter. During the fire raid, over 300 came to Clonard Monastery on the Falls Road. The crypt beneath the sanctuary and the cellar under the sacristy were open as public air raid shelters. Many of the hundreds were Protestants from the Shankill area but all sectarianism was laid aside in the face of adversity. Women and children sheltered together offering up hymns and prayers. Father Tom Murphy strapped on a tin helmet offering absolution to all present as a bomb blew open the street level doors. To get to Clonard Monastery, take the 10A Metro by Translink along the Falls Road and disembark at Clonard.

Buy ‘Belfast Blitz: The People’s Story’ by Stephen Douds on Amazon UK.

Belfast Blitz - Eglington Street

Imperial War Museum Photo: H9476 (Part of the War Office Second World War Official Collection). Rescue workers sift through the rubble of Eglington Street off the Shankill Road, Belfast. 7th May 1941.

Belfast City Cemetery

Although almost 1,000 people in Belfast died during the Belfast Blitz, the city has no permanent reminder. Those who want to pay their respects may do so at the non-denominational City Cemetery on Falls Road. In May 2013, Belfast City Council completed a £30,000 refurbishment of the blitz memorial at Belfast City Cemetery. The granite monument marks the burial site of 154 unidentified victims of the 1941 attack. On the anniversary each year, wreaths are laid by the memorial stone. Scattered around the cemetery are many other known victims of the raid. To get to Belfast City Cemetery, take the 10A Metro by Translink along the Falls Road and disembark at City Cemetery.

Buy ‘Belfast City Cemetery: The History of Belfast, Written in Stone’ by Tom Hartley on Amazon UK.

Belfast Blitz Memorial

Memorial stone on a mass grave in Belfast City Cemetery commemorating the unknown victims of the Belfast Blitz of 1941. Photo taken on tour of Belfast City Cemetery with Peter McCabe in Spring 2017.

The memorial stone marks the graves of those who remained unidentified as a result of the blitz attacks. It is also a focus for each of us to remember and to reflect on how tenacity and endurance help us overcome dreadful events to build a better future.

Councillor Brian Kingston, High Sheriff of Belfast – 15th April 2013.

Milltown Cemtery

2012 saw the restoration of the Belfast Blitz memorial at Milltown Cemetery by NI War Memorial. Here, thirty unidentified victims of the 1941 Luftwaffe raids are laid to rest. Like Belfast City Cemetery, wreaths are laid here on the anniversary of the attacks. It is thought the victims buried at Milltown were of the Roman Catholic faith. As bodies lay out for identification they were checked for medals, rosaries or other religious items. The Luftwaffe did not discriminate between Northern Ireland’s religious divides as bombs fell on Belfast. To get to Milltown Cemetery, take the 10A Metro by Translink along the Falls Road and disembark at Milltown Cemetery.

Buy ‘Milltown Cemetery: The History of Belfast, Written in Stone’ by Tom Hartley on Amazon UK.

To be continued…

View the entire Metro network on Translink.

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